We were recently asked by the Drum Magazine to take part in a feature aimed at people weighing up the the pros and cons of going freelance.
What is your industry background? When did you decide to go freelance and what were you doing previously?
BEN: After gaining an MA I wasn’t allowed to stay at university any longer and joined Tequila Manchester in 2004. After a year and a half I made the move back across the hills and joined Poulters where I teamed up with James.
JAMES: Similar story for me too really. After leaving university I did the placement rounds and eventually found myself at Principles for a while. Then after leaving there and an early venture into the world of freelance I made the short journey over to Poulters.
BEN & JAMES: So we joined forces at Poulters and spent a lovely 3 years at the agency. We watched some great people come in (and leave). Made some nice campaigns for D&AD, Man Utd, Yorkshire Air Ambulance and won a few awards on the way, such as Roses Golds, Creative Review Award and Clio Future Gold. BEN: And then we decided to go freelance after an agency meeting. It went like this… Poulters: "We’re shutting the agency down." Ben: "Looks like we’re going freelance."
Why did you decide to go freelance?
JAMES: Well, the lovely chaps at Bezier decided for us really. But to be fair, we could all see where the agency was headed and we had been contemplating the move for some time already.
BEN: As stated above it wasn’t a decision we made, it was more put upon us. But by that time we felt we had the confidence and ability to make the transition so it wasn’t particularly a great leap. It seemed like a natural progression really.
How did you find the transition between your old job and freelancing?
BEN: Obviously there were initial slight nerves. We sent our details out and went to see agencies etc. Ok, we think we can make the transition, but can we really? Will people like our work? But you never know that you’re doing it right until the phone rings.
JAMES: Exactly. You can find yourself extremely closeted when you’ve worked at the same agency for some time. You get used to certain ways of doing things and it can be a slight culture shock when things change. They liked our stuff, but will anyone else? Every agency has their own tastes, likes, dislikes, styles and ways of doing things and I think we soon realised that we had to be able to adapt quickly to each agencies ways of doing things if we were going to make it work.
BEN: And when people like Graham Fink reply to you saying they like your work you definitely know you’re doing something right. Fortunately for us we didn’t have much time to contemplate not getting work. Our first freelance job was a multi-million pound global pitch for Adam&Eve. After we’d done that we knew we could do the whole freelance thing!
How do the current market conditions affect your ability to find business? Are there benefits to being freelance in this climate?
JAMES: Well, there are plenty of smaller agencies out there that are managing to get hold of some great creative briefs at the moment, but at this current time would not be able or have the need to employ a creative team full time. So we are ideal for clients like that at the moment. But obviously there are more redundancies too, which means more freelancers going for this work too. And as well as finding work, we are also finding that time has become a bigger issue. Deadlines are being pushed tighter all the time. So we may only be booked for a single day to crack a brief that in a different time would have lasted several days. But I think that’s the same for everyone, whether they are freelance or not, to be fair.
BEN: That’s something we’ve definitely noticed. There’s definitely more freelance people out there all looking for the same work. Plus, budgets are being slashed by clients, so there’s not as much work out there. We made a conscious decision to promote ourselves as a team. This way we stay together and to be honest we get some great briefs doing it this way. This is not to say we don’t work separately, we just felt it better to look for more work that requires a team. One of the main benefits is that we’ve got to work in some great agencies and met some really cracking people, you don't get this variety when you’re working in the same place every day.
How has freelance working affected your lifestyle? Benefits? Challenges?
BEN: For one you have to think twice about choosing a continental lager when you go to the bar. I guess the main adjustment for us was the fact we wouldn’t be having a regular wage coming in every month. Once you get used to it, it’s fine you just have to be more organised. “That payment hasn’t come in so I can’t go out Friday or the agency has paid on time, the cat can have it’s operation now.”
JAMES: I think the challenges have always been the same really. Briefs often come in very much at the last minute, so it’s hard to know exactly where you are and hard to plan ahead too. Can I make that gig? Go out on a school night? Go on holiday? You don’t want to miss out on a vital bit of work so you just have to think a bit more about it.
BEN: It’s just a question of balance. Fortunately, we both have great partners who are down with the whole freelance thing and are never on our backs asking where the next mortgage payment is coming from.
Would freelancing suit anyone?
BEN: Not the lazy. It’s like having two jobs. When you’re not working you’re still working looking for jobs. This can be sending emails out, devising a self promotion mailer, to something as little as reading all advertising and design sites to see if there’s an opportunity, even commenting on blogs as it gives potential agencies/work awareness of ourselves. Plus you need to be able to work fairly quickly. Obviously there’s no room for “I haven't cracked the brief yet, I’ll work on it tonight and have something for the morning” To be honest it’s definitely made us a better team. Being exposed to a huge variety of briefs and clients, you’re skills are really honed.
JAMES: There’s no place to hide. Some people are just happy drifting along in an agency they’ve worked at for some time. Which is fine. But when you are freelancing you need to crack every brief, because that’s why they’ve specifically got you in and if you don’t, well, you won’t be coming back again! Some people would hate not knowing exactly what they were going to come out with at the end of each month and I can understand that. But on the other hand it can be great for those wanting fresh challenges all the time and also those who want to pick and choose when they work – especially if they want to work around other things such as kids etc.
Would/could you go back to agency life now?
JAMES: We’re still enjoying the variety of work we’re getting from freelancing, but at the same time, we’d be lying if we said that we didn’t always have an eye on those agencies that are winning pitches and doing interesting things out there. We are certainly always open to any offers that there might be out there.
BEN: We’re in a good position where we don’t have to take the first job that comes our way. I don’t think any creative will honestly tell you that in the current climate, they’d give up a great job opportunity to carry on freelancing. I guess we’re saying, freelance is going well but we are always open to job offers should they come our way.
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